Both teams have had their chances to take control and claim the Cup. So far, neither could establish the momentum needed to put away the other. So it comes down to this. The St. Francis Kansans at the Yuma Firebirds in Game 7 of a hotly-contested 2017 BARB World Series.
Coming off a blowout loss in Game 6, you’d figure the Kansans might be in shock and struggling to get energized for the rubber match.
The visitors had their ace, Stephen Strasburg, on the mound for the third time in the World Series. In the opener, he struck out 11 and allowed just one run while pitching into the seventh. Game 4 saw a quicker hook in an attempt to keep him fresh for a start in just this situation. He still pitched five strong frames, giving up two runs and striking out 7. Including a dominant performance in the first game of the division series, where he wiped the floor with the Frostbite Falls Flying Squirrels to the tune of 13 Ks and one run in six innings, the San Diego-born righty had a 2.04 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 17.2 innings.
Needless to say, Kansans owner Scott Hatfield was bullish on his chances for a first BARB title.
Oddly enough, however, Yuma figurehead Chris Melkonian was also optimistic. He figured his offense’s familiarity with Strasburg would come out in his favor, and that by the end of the night his Firebirds would be hoisting a fifth BARB Cup in the league’s 15-year history.
On the mound for the hosts, and on full rest, was Game 3 starter Carlos Carrasco. In this situation just two years earlier, the right-hander was masterful in shutting down the New England Yankee Stompers on one hit over eight innings and scoring the only run in a Game 7 victory for the Firebirds. Earlier in this Fall Classic, however, Carrasco got rocked, allowing five runs on six hits in under five innings.
As soon as the first inning of Game 7 started, it seemed recent history would repeat itself. After a walk and a single, Cody Bellinger took a vicious cut at a 1-2 pitch…and HAMMERED the ball DEEP to right center…..GONE! St. Francis struck first in the winner-take-all contest with a crooked number before Yuma even came to bat!
At the end of one, that lead had been cut by a run – Dexter Fowler, on Strasburg’s second pitch of the night, launched a dinger of his own.
The rest of that frame passed quietly, but Anthony Rendon opened the home half of the second with a ringing double off the left-field fence. Following a pair of strikeouts, Brett Gardner took a borderline full-count pitch to put two on base. Mike Zunino scored Rendon with a seeing-eye single, and after another walk loaded the bases Joey Votto pulled a double down the line to score two more and give Yuma a 4-3 lead!
The home crowd re-awakened, Carrasco promptly allowed back-to-back doubles in the top of the third. The score once again knotted up, Carrasco was pulled in favor of Jose Quintana. The southpaw’s first offering saw the same fate as Carrasco’s final two pitches, as Justin Turner dumped a bloop on the chalk for two bases and an RBI giving St. Francis the lead.
Bellinger made it four doubles in four batters with a line drive to right-center (about 100 feet short of his blast in the first) to plate Turner and put the Kansans up, 6-4.
Unfazed, Yuma’s Rendon turned on a Strasburg fastball and parked it in the bleachers in left field with a man on in the bottom of the third. In the blink of an eye, it was back to a tie. Strasburg indeed was struggling to fool the Firebirds, and he made it only two outs into the fourth before a Mookie Betts triple knocked him from the ballgame.
The three-bagger didn’t damage the score, as Josh Hader struck out pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist to end the frame, but it was a foreshadowing of things to come. Hader pitched a perfect fifth and got the first out of the sixth before giving way to Trevor Cahill. In hindsight, maybe the Kansans should have kept the young southpaw in the game – Cahill went to full counts on each of the three hitters he faced, and he lost them all to free passes.
In came Chris Devenski, still fatigued from pitching in both Game 4 and 5, to face Betts. Mookie fell behind at 1-2, but Devenski couldn’t bury the changeup enough and the ball was ripped down the right-field line. Two runs scored, giving Yuma an 8-6 lead. Zobrist stepped up and worked the count full before getting a hold of a Devenski fastball that clearly didn’t have its normal zip. It sailed DEEP toward right. Marcell Ozuna got on his horse and leaped at the wall in an attempt to flag it down….
A stunning blast from light-hitting Zobrist completed the turning of the tide. After taking the momentum with a three-run first and their best starter on the mound, the St. Francis Kansans had been outgunned, overwhelmed at their own game of demoralizing quick-strike offense that carried them to 105 regular-season victories.
Three innings remained for the Yuma Firebirds to hold an 11-6 lead and become World Champions. Bryan Shaw worked a strong seventh and retired two in the eighth inning before Sean Manaea took over. Just before St. Francis’ last turn at bat, Yuma’s offense put the final nails in the coffin on a pair of singles, a double and a sacrifice fly to go up by eight runs.
With the crowd in a frenzy, ready to celebrate another title, Ryan Dull took the mound to start the ninth. Nerves got to him and he walked Kike Hernandez. Pinch-hitter Jesse Winker grounded out, and a wild pitch put Hernandez on third. Christian Vazquez came out from behind the plate to remind Dull to focus solely on the hitter with the huge lead, and Dull did just that. A grounder to first brought in the run, and then Jose Altuve chased a slider on the first pitch and hit a three-hopper directly at Ian Kinsler. The throw was in time, and the Firebirds rushed the field in celebration of their third BARB title in four years, with fireworks adding a concussive feel in the background.
FINAL: YUMA 14, ST. FRANCIS 7
Chris Melkonian glad-handed family and friends in the home owner’s box, while Scott Hatfield sat stone-faced after yet another playoff run gone awry for his long-suffering franchise.
The title was Yuma’s fifth, trailing just Santa Barbara/Frostbite Falls (seven) for most by a single team in BARB history.
MVP: Mookie Betts
Indeed, the electric outfielder was the most valuable component to Yuma’s rise to glory. He went hitless in just one game (Game 2) and stroked exactly two hits in each of the other six games. Betts hit .400 overall (12-for-30), slugged four homers among eight extra-base hits and drove in a whopping 10 runs. Votto also knocked in 10, but Betts’ average cinched the award. St. Francis totaled 15 home runs as a team in the Series and featured 10 different players hitting over the fence, but had they won Strasburg would have earned the nod. But Yuma took the title, and Betts was clearly their star.